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Svend Petersen, the Beverly Hills Hotel pool manager who rubbed elbows with the rich and famous for more than a half-century before running into financial trouble in his final years, has died. He was 90.
Petersen died Dec. 22 at Glendale Memorial Hospital, according to Thomas Marinello, the organizer of a GoFundMe campaign that had raised more than $78,000 on his behalf after he had become homeless in 2017. As for a cause of death, “we are still trying to figure this out,” he said.
Born in Denmark on Aug. 10, 1930, Petersen worked in the American Embassy in Copenhagen as a waiter in the ambassador’s private residence.
He began his tenure at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1959 as a lifeguard and was promoted to pool manager three years later, presiding over the pool and the cabana boys until 2001. After that, he spent another dozen years helping out in the hotel’s PR and communications department.
Along the way, Petersen said he grew close to the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Faye Dunaway — he said he taught her how to swim — and Johnny Carson.
“They treated me like I was one of them,” he told The Hollywood Reporter‘s Chris Gardner in 2017. “It was like a country club. Everybody knows everybody. Whitney Houston came down and she hugged and kissed me. That was my job, and that’s why I enjoyed it so much.”
Petersen also appeared the Paul Newman movies The Prize (1963) and Torn Curtain (1966), on a 1991 episode of the game show To Tell the Truth and on Richard E. Grant’s Hotel Secrets in 2012.
In a 2004 profile, the Los Angeles Times described him as “a living, breathing vessel of Hollywood history — barrel-chested, muscular and vigorous, his white shock of once-blond hair full as ever, his skin astonishingly undamaged by years of solar assault. More important, he retains the sort of sunny disposition necessary to survive and thrive in the orbit of those who assume themselves to be the sun itself.”
Petersen told Gardner that his money problems began in 2014 when he received a tax bill for $71,000 after selling a home in Beachwood Canyon. “I didn’t know anything about real estate,” he said. “When you don’t have anyone around you, you don’t know [what to do]. It sounds strange, but it’s true. I don’t have any family anymore.”
At the outset of 2017, Petersen said he could no longer afford his apartment and lived in his car, which he soon was forced to sell. He got back on his feet with the help of the GoFundMe campaign, fueled by contributions from Clive Davis, Sandra Bullock and others in Hollywood.
Petersen spent time in a convalescent home in Glendale before his death, Marinello said.
On Jan. 14, Marinello announced that a new GoFundMe campaign had been set up “for Svend to get a proper burial.”
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